The first week of January I stayed in Suncheon with my second aunt’s family. It’s amazing how just the knowledge of being family can bond people together. I was reminded of how, in the middle of applying to study abroad in Korea a couple years ago, Luke in the study abroad office brushed off my concerns about not being able to communicate with my family. At the very least, we could stare into each other’s eyes, he joked. It’s silly that a remark like this stuck with me, but it’s not too far off the mark. We have enough Korean, English and body language between us to make conversation, but just being around family, even those I’ve never met, is somehow a comfort. Now the only family I haven’t met (beyond distant relatives) is my uncle’s (because he’s in India).
This was my first time meeting my aunt in Suncheon – Myeong-Hwa imo – and her family, with the exception of Borami, my dongap (or same age) cousin. I think I’m noticing that in Korea, being the same age as someone is kind of a big deal. It’s more comfortable, especially in Korean, to address that person because both parties can drop the honorifics. After a week of talking so much to Borami, I kept forgetting to use honorifics when talking to people older than me, like my host parents.
Together we visited famous sites in and near Suncheon, including the Naganeupseong Folk Village and Suncheon Bay Ecological Park. Unfortunately, almost the whole family caught colds on Monday (interestingly, I later found out that my host mom also became very sick that same Monday) and so I ended up taking lots of interesting cold remedies (on top of regular cold pills). One of them involved coating Q-tips in cabbage juice and sticking them up my nose. My aunt’s husband could stick them almost entirely up his nose, and I was freaked out by the whole affair. I ended up sneezing like crazy – which is what was supposed to happen. It cleared up my sinuses and lasted almost the entire next day…but still.
I spent the most time with my cousin and her boyfriend of two years, Doong-Wook. He ended up paying for almost everything we did, which is custom (whoever’s older pays), but I felt bad for him. He was really sweet and didn’t make me feel like a third wheel most of the time, but Borami used me to take plenty of couple photos for them. The three of us visited the green tea fields at Boseong at night, which was beautiful with all the lights. When we left, Doong-Wook only told me “green tea,” so I thought we were going to drink tea. I was pleasantly surprised by the green tea fields.
We have so many pictures.
If there’s one thing Borami’s really good at, it’s taking pictures. So SO many. I can also count on her to photoshop all of them, whether I want her to or not. Like many Korean girls I’ve met, she’s very conscious of how she looks in photos. Our personalities are very different. My cousin is much girlier than I am, and willing to spend A LOT more on clothes than me. But as I’ve done many times in Korea, I switched off my unimportant preferences and expectations, and, as it’s more popularly known, went with the flow. Usually everything was fine – except for the amount we both spent on outfits for our cousin’s wedding. This is someone who got her high school prom dress for $25…
That leads me to the second part of this post, which is my cousin Ye-Rim’s wedding! The following Sunday my aunt’s family and I went together to Busan to attend a wedding – the first among all of my Korean cousins. And my first Korean wedding. Surprisingly and sadly, Borami and I took hardly any photos. We’ll have to wear those dresses together again.
The wedding, as I’d been told it would be, was surprisingly short. The actually ceremony was probably 30 minutes. They didn’t play the typical wedding song when Ye-Rim walked down the aisle; I can’t even remember what they played. The parents of the bride and groom sat in the front, the mothers in traditional hanboks, the fathers in suits. All the aunts of each family also wore hanboks. The family all went with Aunt Myeong-Hwa to rent a hanbok the day before.
The wedding was held at a hotel, and afterwards, we ate at the buffet restaurant there. I don’t why, but I didn’t expect/realize that pretty much the whole family would be there. I was pleasantly surprised to see my aunts again (from Busan and Seoul) and my grandfather. (My grandmother couldn’t come because of her health.) Upon seeing me, my grandfather gave me a friendly greeting, grabbed my hand, and lead me over to some other old people and introduced me. They said to come over to their house and play sometime (this expression is common in Korean, but sounds silly in English), and I smiled and agreed. I’m still not entirely sure who they are, but I think they’re my grandfather or grandmother’s brother or sister’s family. So my great aunt or uncle and his or her wife. I’ve narrowed it down quite a bit, haven’t I?
From there it was time to say goodbye. Myeong-Hwa imo’s family graciously dropped me off at my host family’s apartment (right up to the elevator) before driving back to Suncheon. I wish I could just travel around Korea and see family all the time, but alas, I’m supposed to be a teacher.
But it’s still winter break for one more week, and tomorrow, I’m off to Japan!